Carolyn Hamilton: Terrific Majesty

In a 1992 journal article based on a prior conference paper, later also published as a chapter in a 1995 book, Carolyn Hamilton examined early reporting on King Shaka in the Colony of Natal press. Hamilton argued that Julian Cobbing’s ‘alibi’ argument had failed to probe how colonial representations of Shaka had evolved over time – they were not negative from their outset, as Cobbing had assumed. Hamilton further argued that Cobbing had overlooked the complexities and the pluralities within the Mfecane narrative. By presenting the Mfecane as a homogenous white narrative, he had denied the extent to which Africans had played a part in the shaping of southern African history. By discounting African oral sources, Cobbing had failed to recognise that depictions of Shaka were not uniform, but had ranged widely in accordance with the political affiliation of the African source in question. Hamilton concluded that Cobbing’s argument ultimately arose from his misuse of the evidence because the vernacular evidence undermined the notion of the ‘alibi’.

Relevant Works

Cobbing, Julian. “The Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong and Mbolompo”. The Journal of African History 29, no. 3 (1988), 487-519.

Hamilton, Carolyn. Editor. The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.

Hamilton, Carolyn. Terrific Majesty: The Powers of Shaka Zulu and the Limits of Historical Invention. Cape Town: David Philip, 1998.

Hamilton, Carolyn. “‘The Character and Objects of Chaka’: A Reconsideration of the Making of Shaka as the Mfecane Motor”. The Journal of African History 33, no. 1 (1992), 37-63.

Hamilton, Carolyn. “’The Character and Objects of Chaka’: A Reconsideration of the Making of Shaka as the Mfecane Motor”. The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History, edited by Carolyn Hamilton, 183-212. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.

 

Online from: 16 Jul 2021